Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2018 State of the City address, held on Feb. 13 at Brooklyn’s renowned King’s Theater, was premised on a particularly bold claim. The words “Mayor Bill de Blasio Making New York America’s Fairest Big City” were emblazoned on the marquee so that attendees, passersby and the scores of protesters who had been forced to the other side of Flatbush Avenue couldn’t miss them.
Yet, de Blasio has advocated for the privatization of public housing and has the support of major real estate interests. It’s no surprise then that his “tale of two cities” rhetoric leaves public housing tenants cold, in some sense literally. This winter, more than 320,000 New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, residents lost either their heat or hot water, exemplifying decades of neglect. In response, some are rallying with the grassroots organization Community Voices Heard, or CVH. They are pushing a platform that demands the mayor make good on his progressive rhetoric and take bold measures to abolish their hazardous living conditions.
Protesters from CVH began assembling in front of the theater at around 5 p.m. to demand that the mayor fully fund repairs in public housing. Within minutes of their arrival, police ordered the demonstrators — who came from a number of other groups, including Equality for Flatbush, the Street Vendor Project and Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence — to the opposite side of the street, where they were blocked from view by NYPD vans. But the group remained steadfast due to the high stakes of their campaign.
Aside from having to deal with failing boilers, which are at least 50 years old, residents are also fed up with lingering toxic mold and lead paint. According one lawyer in a class action suit that resulted in a $57 million settlement from the NYCHA, the problems with lead paint have been acknowledged since the 1960s. Lapses like these are the product of decades of privatization and the whittling away at funding for public housing.